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The Village Commune (Vol. 1). Ouida, 1839–1908.
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SANTA ROSALIA in Selva is a village anywhere you will betwixt the Adrian and the Tyrrhene seas, betwixt the Dolomites and the Abruzzi. It is not necessary to indicate its geographical position more clearly; it is sufficient to say that it is a little Italian borgo, like many another, lying under the sweet blue skies of this beloved and lovely land that has been mother to Theocritus and page: 2 Tasso. A village white as a seashore stone; lying along a river green as the Adige; with low mountains in sight across a green table‐land of vine and chestnut, olive and corn; with some tall poplars by the water, and a church with a red brick bell‐tower, and the bell swinging behind its wooden cage. Across the fields and along the side of the hills are scores of other villages; narrow roads run between them all in a network hidden under vine leaves; and some hundreds of house‐roofs make up together what is called the Commune of Vezzaja and Ghiralda. Of this commune the chief place, because the largest village, is Santa Rosalia. Santa Rosalia in Selva; so called because thus named in days when the woods had covered it up as closely as a blackbird’s nest is covered with the long leaves that it builds in; Santa Rosalia in page: 3 Selva, a simple, honest, fresh, and most rural place, with sunburnt women plaiting straw upon its doorsteps, and little naked children tumbling about like Loves escaped from the panels of Correggio; with the daffodils and the odorous narcissus growing in spring‐time everywhere among the grass and corn, and in the autumn the ox‐carts going with the tubs of gathered grapes slowly down its single street: a street without a paving‐stone, and without a shop except the butcher’s stall and the grocer’s, and one little old dim penthouse‐like place where in the gloom an old woman sells cakes and toys and rosaries.

The bright green country lies close about Santa Rosalia, and indeed is one with it, and in summer so overlaps it, and roofs it in, with vine‐foliage and clouds of silvery olive leaf that nothing is to be seen of it page: 4 except the bell‐tower of its chief church, San Giuseppe, with a statue of the saint upon its roof pointing heavenward.

Things had always come and gone easily in Santa Rosalia in the old days, and even in the new. With revolutions and the like it had had nothing to do. It never talked politics. When men who had remembered wine ten centimes a flask found it rise to a hundred they scratched their heads and were puzzled; being told it was the cost of liberty, they took the explanation simply as a matter of fact, and thought liberty was a name for the vine disease.

When the church was whitewashed, and the trattoria was turned into the Caffè Vittorio Emanuele, and the conscription placards were pasted on the bridge, and the Imperial taxes established themselves in a brand‐new stucco‐plastered public office page: 5 next the butcher’s, with a shield upon it, bearing a white cross on a red ground, Santa Rosalia did not take much notice: everything grew dear indeed, but some said it was the gas away in the city did it, and some said it was the railway, and some said it was the king, and some said it was all the fault of liquid manure; but still nobody troubled much about anything, and everybody continued to go to mass, and do his best to be happy, until—the events took place that I propose to record.

The Commune of Vezzaja and Ghiralda, whose centre is the village of Santa Rosalia, is, like all Italian communes, supposed to enjoy an independence that is practically a legislative autonomy. So long as it contributes its quota to the Imperial taxes, the Imperial Government is supposed to have nothing to do with it, and it is considered page: 6 to be as free as air to govern itself; so everybody will tell you; and so inviolate is its freedom that even the Prefect of its province dare not infringe upon it—or says so when he wants to get out of any trouble.

Anybody who pays five francs’ worth of taxes has a communal vote in this free government, and helps to elect a body of thirty persons, who in turn elect a council of seven persons, who in turn elect a single person called a syndic, or, as you would call him in English, a mayor. This distilling and condensing process sounds quite admirable in theory. Whoever has the patience to read the pages of this book will see how this system works in practice.

Now in Vezzaja and Ghiralda the thirty persons do nothing but elect the seven persons, the seven do nothing but elect the one person, and the one person does nothing page: 7 but elect his secretary; and the secretary, with two assistants dignified respectively by the titles of Chancellor and Conciliator, does everything in the way of worry to the public that the ingenuity of the official mind can conceive. The secretary’s duties ought to be simply those of a secretary anywhere, but by a clever individual can be brought to mean almost anything you please in the shape of local tyranny and extortion; the chancellor (cancelliere) has the task of executing every sort of unpleasantness against the public in general, and sends out by his fidus Achates, the Usher, all kinds of summons and warrants at his will and discretion; as for the conciliator (giudice conciliatore), his office, as his name indicates, is supposed to consist in conciliation of all local feuds, disputes, and debts, but as he is generally chiefly remarkable for an absolute ignorance page: 8 of law and human nature, and a general tendency to accumulate fees anywhere and anyhow, he is not usually of the use intended, and rather is famous for doing what a homely phrase calls setting everybody together by the ears. It being understood that all these gentry are men who, in any other country would be butchers, or bakers, or candlestick makers, it is readily to be understood likewise that they are not an absolutely unmixed boon to the community over which they reign; at their very best they have been book‐keepers or scriveners, or bankrupt petty tradesmen who have some interest with the prefect of the province or the syndic of the commune, and as they usually are, all three alike, little Gesslers in temperament and almost uncontrolled in power, it is easy to imagine that their yoke is by no means light upon the necks of their page: 9 neighbours and subjects, and that they dance the devil’s dance, humorously, over its finances and its fortunes. Power is sweet, and when you are a little clerk you love its sweetness quite as much as if you were an emperor, and may be you love it a good deal more.

Tyranny is a very safe amusement in this liberated country. Italian law is based on that blessing to mankind, the Code Napoléon, and the Code Napoléon is perhaps the most ingenious mechanism for human torture that the human mind has ever constructed. In the cities its use for torment is not quite so easy, because where there are crowds there is always the fear of a riot, and besides there are horrid things called newspapers, and citizens wicked and daring enough to write in them. But always in the country, the embellished and filtered Code page: 10 Napoléon can work like a steam plough; there is nobody to appeal, and nobody to appeal to; the people are timid and perplexed; they areas defenceless as the sheep in the hand of the shearer; they are frightened at the sight of the printed papers, and the carabinier’s sword; there is nobody to tell them that they have any rights, and besides, rights are very expensive luxuries anywhere, and cost as much to take care of as a carriage horse.

Now and then the people find out their rights, and light a barrel of petroleum with them, and are blamed: it is foolish, no doubt, and it is terrible, but the real blame lies with their masters, who leave them no other light than the petroleum glare. That they do not use their petroleum for anything except their household lamps is due to the patience and the docility of the people; it is page: 11 not due to the embellished and filtered version of the Code Napoléon, nor to the administrators of it.

Santa Rosalia is a rambling place, straggling along one side of the green impetuous river; of course it possesses what it calls a piazza, and makes a sort of pretence at being a town; but the grass grows long in its stones all over the place, and its folks are as rustic as villagers can be. There were never very many people in the lowly borgo, but the few there were, at the time of which I write, dwelt in good harmony together.

There was Luigi Canterelli (always called Gigi) who dealt in all kinds of useful things from hammers to pins, from drugs to broad beans; there was Ferdinando Gambacorta (known only as Nando), who was plumber and cartwright and carpenter all in one; there was Leopoldo Franceschi (Poldo), who page: 12 was locksmith, blacksmith, whitesmith, and farrier; there was Raffaelle Dando (Faello) who was the big butcher, and there was Alessandro Montauto (Sandro) who was the little one; there was Vincenzio Torriggiani (Cencio) who was the tailor of the community and might be seen sitting all day long cross‐legged and hard at work on his threshold and for ever ready for a gossip; there was Filippo Rasselluccio (Lippo) who was the baker and also trafficked in grain and seeds; there was Guiseppe Lante (Beppo) who had a trattoria and wine shop, and would roast you a dozen thrushes or fry you a dozen artichokes against all the cooks in Christendom. There was Leonardo Mariani (Nardo) who kept a paint and oil and brush shop, and also kept the post‐office after his own manner, which was to spread the letters out upon his counter and let them lie there till page: 13 somebody should come in who would be going the way to which they were addressed, and would consent to take them thither. There was the apothecary, of course, il dottore Guarino Squillace, who was paid by the commune about 20 l. pounds a year to look after its bodies; and there was Dom Lelio, the Vicar of San Guiseppe, who was paid about twenty shillings a month by the State to look after its souls; and there was the miller, Demetrio Pastorini, who dwelt on the river, and had handsome sons and daughters to the number of seven, and there were a great many other very poor people, nondescripts, getting their bread anyhow; and outside the village there were of course all the small gentry and many contadini and fattori who dashed through the place on fiery horses or in jingling break‐neck bagheri, those bastard offspring of a cart and a gig.

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Santa Rosalia had been made into the centre of a new commune some decades ago; but though wine had become ten times the old price, and taxes had become fifty times heavier, Santa Rosalia had not felt its new shoe pinch very terribly, for its syndic had been a very just and excellent person (as does sometimes actually happen), a certain Marchese Palmarola, as simple as Cincinnatus and as gentle as S. Frances. But unhappily for Santa Rosalia, Palmarola had died of tertian fever one hot summer time, and another and different person had been elected in his place, the Cavaliere Anselmo Durellazzo. The Marchese had seen to everything himself; had never signed a paper or a form without reading it, and enquiring into the case that required it; had let many foolish and cruel regulations be dead letters, and had never been known to be unjust to either page: 15 rich or poor. Most people are unjust to one or the other. But then the Marchese had been a Catholic and a gentleman, and so had been silly enough to believe in such an antiquated thing as moral responsibility.

The Cavaliere Durellazzo had not these scruples; he had been a wax candle manufacturer on a large scale in a city, and though the Church had helped to make his fortune, he was much given to laughing at it; with his millions he had purchased estates in the commune of Vezzaja and Ghiralda, and the Giunta thought there was nobody better for a syndic; he thought so too. He was a fat, easy‐going, sleepy man, and as soon as he came into office signed some hundreds of blank forms to save himself all trouble; he cared for nothing except playing dominoes and begin bowed to by his peasantry. As he had passed all his page: 16 life in bowing himself, it was a new sensation.

The commune under the Cavaliere Durellazzo soon got into disorder; complaints were made to the thirty, and the thirty made them to the seven, and the seven made them to the one. The Cavaliere Durellazzo looked around him, and bethought him of a remedy which should involve no trouble to himself. He summoned Messer Gaspardo Nellemane, who was then employed in the Municipality of the nearest city and soon into the sunlight of Santa Rosalia, there came a tall, trim, erect figure, clad in town‐made clothes, who was commended to the respect of the commune in general as the new secretary.

Messer Gaspardo Nellemane was a man of some seven‐and‐twenty years; he was well made, and had a dark and rather handsome face, in which the Hebrew origin attri‐ page: 17 buted to him displayed itself somewhat strongly. He was quite a grand personage in Santa Rosalia; he dressed in city fashion, and he had a great many rings, if he did not always wash his hands, and the way in which he smoked his cigar, wore his hat, and kicked a dog out of his path was quite that of a very fine gentleman.

Messer Nellemane had begun life in a little dusky den of pots and pans, and odds and ends of iron and brass that we call chincaglierie, and there had tumbled about, a dusty child, amongst the rust and rubbish, till, seeing he was sharp little boy, his old father sent him to school, and from school he went to a notary’s office as clerk, and from there had mounted up into the Civil Service of Italy, until here he was, a great man, in Santa Rosalia, with twice as much as the apothecary, and four times as much as page: 18 the vicar, as official salary, and bed and board beside, not to mention any such windfalls as might drop to him in the due course of a just administration.

Messer Gaspardo Nellemane lived in two little rooms, very bare of furniture, and was waited on by the man that swept out the Communal Palace, and ate white beans fried in oil, and salt fish, and had a bit of kid on highdays and holydays, just like any other unit of the modest public. But Messer Gaspardo, though he smoked two‐centime cigars and drank a thin wine at a few pence a flask, was an ambitious man; he saw no reason why he should not become a deputy, and even a minister before he died, and indeed there was no reason whatever. He was only a clerk at fifty pounds a year; but he had a soul above all scruples, and a heart as hard as the millstone.

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In station he was only a humble though energetic official, carrying out the supreme will of the Guinta, just as young Bonaparte seemed a mere general carrying out the will of the Republic. But genius has its supremacy wherever it may dwell, and Messer Nellemane in real truth moved the Guinta as though they were automatic figures and he their central spring. The Guinta gathered round a council table every week, and believed they did business; but, in point of fact, they only looked through the spectacles that Messer Nellemane provided. Messer Nellemane saved them a great deal of trouble, and they were grateful.

There stood the Palazzo Communale in the midst of sunny Santa Rosalia, a square bald ugly building, dirty and naked and always dusty‐looking, with its plaster crack‐ page: 20 ing, and its paint peeling, and Santa Rosalia was told that this ugly building was their temple of liberty and equity; liberty public and private, equity that was no respecter of persons, but impartial and incorruptible; and inside the Palazzo Communale Messer Nellemane had it all his own way, and thence did rule the commune ‘with suavity and moderation’ as he himself would say, when he would speak of his administration, as he took a bibita at evening in the door‐way of the little humble caffè which was proud to house so great a man; a caffè where the Secretary and the Conciliator and the Chancellor sat and played cards, and drank little strong essences together, most nights, in that perfect accord which characterized their public and private career. They never quarrelled: not they: one held page: 21 the sheep, another sheared it, and a third gathered the wool; if they had once quarrelled they might have let go of the sheep.

Messer Gaspardo Nellemane sometimes thought that he could very well have held and sheared and gathered, all by himself, for he was clever, and his friends, the Conciliator and the Chancellor, were not distinguished for intellect.

The Conciliator was a fat bald man, who in remote days had been a priest, a cook, a taverner, a cheesemonger, and found all trades fail; he like his glass and was generally half asleep: the Chancellor had been an apothecary’s prentice once upon a time, and had got into trouble for mistaking the dog Latin on his pots and bottles, and giving the wrong drugs; he was small and thin and very page: 22 timid, and had but one passion, artichokes in oil.

Messer Gaspardo Nellemane was of a different mould to his colleagues, whom he called so affectionately his dear Tonino and his beloved Maso; his was a master mind, and his own master the Syndic, the most worshipful Signor Cavaliere Durellazzo, never dared say a word of dispute or reproof to him, but, when he drove into Santa Rosalia once a week or once a month, nodded and blinked, and assented to everything, and muttered ‘Va bene, va benissimo’ to all the acts and deeds, the elaborate judgements and obsequious explanations of his secretary. So Messer Gaspardo Nellemane ruled and reigned in Santa Rosalia in Selva, as a number of precisely similar people so rule and reign still, all over the land, in this year of grace 1880.

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The public creates the bureaucracy and is eaten up by it; it is the old story of Saturn and his sons. Messer Gaspardo was a very insignificant atom of the European bureaucracy, it is true; but he was big enough to swallow the commune of Vezzaja and Ghiralda.

All the commune detested him, yet all the commune cringed to him. The commune had appointed the thirty, and the thirty had appointed the seven, and the seven had appointed the Syndic, Cavaliere Durellazzo, and Cavaliere Durellazzo had appointed Messer Gaspardo; and when once this clever rider was upon the patient mule’s back, nobody in all Vezzaja and Ghiralda was clever enough to get him off again.

Government, according to Messer Nellemane, and many greater public men have page: 24 thought the same before him, was a delicate and elaborate machinery for getting everything out of the public that could be got; the public was a kid to be skinned, a grape to be squeezed, a sheep to be shorn; the public was to be managed, cajoled, bullied, put in the press, made wine of in a word; wine for the drinking of Messer Nellemane. Messer Nellemane was not a minister yet, but he thought himself a minister.

He was only a clerk indeed, at a slender salary, and ate his fried tomatoes publicly in the little back room of the caffè; but he had the soul of a statesman. When a donkey kicks, beat it; when it dies, skin it; so only will it profit you; that was his opinion, and the public was the donkey of Messer Nellemane.

Messer Nellemane had blessed Santa‐Rosalia for about three years and a half when page: 25 the first of the incidents that I am about to narrate took place, and changed the fates of some very poor people; the sort of people that the world will sometimes deign to read about if Georges Sand or George Eliot write of them, but who, outside a story‐book, are absolutely uninteresting and insignificant.

Messer Nellemane had been dining at three o’clock in the balmy afternoon of a lovely spring day, and was strolling along the left bank of the Rosa river: the bank where the houses were not.

Messer Nellemane this day was in a complacent frame of mind; he had been inspecting the roads with his friend Pierino Zaffi, who was the engineer of the commune; an engineer who knew too little even to be employed on a railway. Happily for him, however, he had gone to school with Messer Nellemane, and had in his page: 26 boyish days lent Messer Nellemane little sums of money; so, when an engineer was wanted for the commune on the old one dying, Messer Nellemane had said, ‘There is Pierino Zaffi, a man with capabilities to bore the Gran Sasso, and drain the Maggiore. It might be well if we could secure his services;’ and the Syndic had said, ‘Va, bene, va benissimo.’ So Pierino Zaffi had also been put upon the civil list of Vezzaja and Ghiralda.

There was a very heavy tax for roads in the commune; everybody who paid fifty‐francs‐worth of rent had to contribute; the total amassed was considerable.

Now the roads were very bad in Vezzaja and Ghiralda, and Pierino Zaffi was there to make them better, and the big lump sum taken from the public for that purpose was there too. But for Pierino Zaffi to mend page: 27 the roads, and for the money to be spent on them, would have been much too simple to be statesmanlike; they went quite another way to work, did these two school‐friends. They put up the roads to auction; here are the roads to be mended; the roads will go to the lowest bidder; how much for the roads? Then a miller stepped forward and said he would take them in hand for 400 francs per annum; he was scouted. Then a stonemason said he would do them for 350; he too, was put aside contemptuously. Then a contractor from the city said he was willing to offer 200; and he was dallied with coyingly because he was a contractor; and after much higgling, bidding, screaming, and disputing, the stonemason made final offer of 140 francs per annum for the roads, and got them.

The stonemason’s views as to the mending page: 28 of roads were simple: he had all the flint that was chipped off, and all the rubbish that was shot, in his yard emptied at different places on the highways, and when he happened to possess neither chips nor rubbish he did nothing at all.

Goers to and fro upon the roads cursed the state of them; horses and mules fell into their holes, and wheels jolted to pieces over their ruts. The stonemason stolidly replied that if he did not keep the roads well the engineer could say he did not, and see to it. Then the engineer was summoned, and made an inspection, and breakfasted with the stonemason, and drank Vino Santo and was made comfortable in every way, and sent in a report which affirmed that it was impossible that the roads could be better. ‘There!’ said the stonemason, and entrenched himself safely behind the report, while Messer Nelle‐ page: 29 mane read the report to the Guinta, and the Syndic said, ‘Va bene, va benissimo.’ And as for the roads, Messer Nellemane had looked at the green corn in the fields, and Messer Pierino had looked at the clouds in the sky, and both had declared themselves as to the state of the roads most satisfied, most gratified, nay, actually surprised with the excellence of them. Mules only broke their legs because they were obstinate, and wheels only came off because they were rotten; that was the fault of the mules and the wheels, clearly: the state of the roads was excellent.

This is how roads are managed in Vezzaja and Ghiralda. Municipal government is a blessing, and the greatest guarantee of freedom—so we are told.

Meanwhile, where did the rest of the public taxes for the roadkeeping go, when page: 30 the stonemason’s hundred and forty francs were deducted? This was a question nobody in Vezzaja and Ghiralda ever thought of asking. The patience of the taxpaying public all the world over is wonderful. It is probable that this donkey‐like quality is what makes statesmen also all the world over, and especially chancellors of exchequers, so contemptuous of the public. They treat is as Sganarelle treats his wife.

Messer Nellemane had been with Messer Pierino on one of these tours of inspection and had come back in a good humour; the Vino Santo had been admirable, and the thrushes and the hare‐with‐herbs had been done to a turn. In a genial frame of mind, therefore, Messer Gaspardo strolled homeward by that pretty river, the Rosa, which is a bright stream, green as a lizard’s back, rough and roaring in winter times of flood, page: 31 clear and shallow in summer seasons, with broad stretches of pale yellow sand.

The Rosa is an historic river, though a narrow one; who will may read in ancient chronicles of holy pilgrimages made along its banks, and unholy war waged upon its shores, of Guelf and Ghibelline fording its waters, and of Spaniard and German engulfed in its flood.

But of these old tales Messer Nellemane thought not; for the past he had a boundless scorn; how stupid were those barons and troopers of middle ages who could only roast a Jew’s feet, or use the thumbscrew to an usurer! how superior for the same ends were taxes, tribunals, and the law! Messer Gaspardo Nellemane was, like many other modern philosophers, quite convinced there had never been any times so good as the present.

He sauntered along, his Cavour cigar in page: 32 his mouth; the sun was going towards the west, the Lombardy poplars fringing the river‐banks shook in a slight breeze; elsewhere it was dusty and unpleasant, but by the river there were coolness, shadow, and no dust.

Suddenly the eyes of Messer Nellemane lighted on—a contravention. His eye brightened at the sight as a warhorse’s at the panoply of troops. What he saw was an old man cutting osiers on the margin of the now shallow Rosa; near him a girl was beating linen in the water, and a youth a little way off was sifting the river shingle.

The old man, Filippo Mazzetti, always called Pippo, was a basket‐maker and mender of rush chairs, and weaver of the wickerwork of wine and oil flasks. He was certainly very poor as the great world counts poverty, but he was as happy for all page: 33 that as a cricket in the corn. He had a little house of his own, his very own, as the children say, that hung over a bend in the water, and he always managed to have a pound or two of meat on Sundays, and his canes and osiers could be had merely for the gathering.

The maiden beside him was the daughter of his dead son; she was the pride of his soul and the apple of his eye. She was called Viola, for that name of Shakespeare’s shy, bold, sweet heroine is one common amongst the country people here, and she was like the Sibilla Persica * as a human face can be like an immortal thought. She had a very noble and pensive face, and when she went to cut osiers and willows with her father, and bore the green bundle of the reeds, or a red sheaf of maple wands,

Of Guercino.

page: 34 upon her head, she was as full of grace and unconscious grandeur as though she had been a daughter of Cæsars.

She could not read a line, and her feet were usually bare, and she was hard at work from sunrise to sunset; but she had the old Hera‐like beauty, the antique sculptural calm. Her grandfather had kept her strictly, and she had never stirred out without him; a little shrivelled old man, very small and very sunburnt, who looked beside her like a withered bough beside an amaryllis. She was devoted to him, and he to her, and here in Santa Rosalia their innocent lives had passed quite peaceably and painlessly until this spring day, as he went by the river, Messer Nellemane by ill fortune saw her washing linen there, Pippo cutting reeds the while, and the miller’s eldest son, Carmelo page: 35 Pastorini, knee‐deep in the water, shovelling up and shifting shingle.

Messer Gaspardo Nellemane stopped, espying, as I have said, that thing whose sight was beatitude and yet exasperation to him—a contravention. He had made a code of little by‐laws, all brand‐new and of his own invention; he thought administration should be persecution; if it did not perpetually assert itself who would respect it? He had made everything punishable that could be possibly distorted into requiring punishment.

Every commune has the right to make its own by‐laws and Messer Gaspardo had framed about three hundred and ninety and the Giuntà sleepily and indifferently had assented to them, and the worshipful Syndic, Cavaliere Durellazzo, had looked them over and said, ‘Va bene, va benissimo,’ and so in page: 36 Santa Rosalia all the secretary’s regulations had been adopted and become law. Quite recently he had incorporated into these regulations the law that nobody must cut canes or reeds in the Rosa without permission of, and payment to, the commune. L’État c’est moi, and its pocket is mine too, was always in the thoughts of Messer Nellemane.

So he went down to the edge of the stream, and said, quite affectionately to old Pippo, because the maiden was so handsome, ‘My dear friend, what you are doing there is against the law unless indeed you have paid for a permit, and I think you have not. Can you show me your license?’

Old Pippo, who was rather deaf and a little surly‐tempered, grunted, and went on cutting. Messer Nellemane spoke a little more sharply.

‘My friend, do you hear? It is ex‐ page: 37 pressly forbidden by the regulations of the municipal police to do what you are doing. There is a fine for the first offence and a very heavy penalty if it be repeated—’

‘Four hundred years and more my fathers cut reeds in the Rosa,’ said Pippo, looking up at last and sticking his pipe in his trouser band.

‘We do not accept degraded precedents as any justification for infraction of the laws of the commune,’ said Messer Gaspardo, who loved very long words, for they proved that he was an educated man and did not speak like the vulgar.

‘Eh?’ said Pippo, who was easily frightened and yet timidly disposed to stand up for a right that was like an heirloom, only the long words worried and puzzled him so that he thought he must have done murder, or sinned against the Holy Ghost, page: 38 without knowing it. ‘Scusi tanto, Signore,’ he said in his confusion. ‘But everybody gathers the reeds; my father and grandfather—and what shall I do for my baskets?’

‘Petition for a permit, and if it be accorded you, pay for it,’ said Messer Nellemane, sharply. ‘If you cut them after this, you will be summoned and fined.’

Pippo scratched his head in bewilderment. Young Carmelo, knee‐deep in the water washing his shingle, looked at Viola washing her father’s shirt and saw she was trembling and staring with alarmed distended eyes up in the face of the great man.

‘It is an old right,’ said Carmelo, boldly shouting to the clerk of the commune. ‘It is a right of the people, like these shingles here; the river is common to us all.’

‘The people have no rights when the page: 39 majesty of the law abrogates and abolishes them,’ replied Messer Nellemane with . dignity, which is perhaps the truest word he ever spoke, and wrote in the note‐book which he always carried: ‘Carmelo of the Casata Pastorini appears to be of a contumacious and disputative character; mem memorandum : to be watched.’ He was about to utter words more severe, when he chanced to look down and see the beauty of Viola’s upraised face. Messer Gaspardo Nellemane was human in all his greatness; he was dazzled for a moment, and weakened by the lustre of her humid and frightened eyes: he knew that she was old Pippo’s granddaughter, but he had never noticed her before.

He changed the intended phrase into a milder one.

‘You are warned, Mazzetti, and warned by me,’ he said, with a charitable condescen‐ page: 40 sion in his tone. ‘As you were in ignorance of the municipal regulations, I will not report you this time, but beware of another infringement on the law: see Article 6 of Rule XIV. of the Communal Code of Vezzaja and Ghiralda. Buon’ sera, buon’ riposo.’

Then he went on his way along the river bank with benignity.

‘May I carry them in, think you?’ said old Pippo in doubt and fear, fondly regarding his cut rushes.

‘I would not care for him and his laws,’ said young Carmelo, plunging his arms down into the shingle with a contemptuous laugh on his bright fresh face. ‘He was made yesterday, and the river was here before any of us, and is meant for us.’

‘That is all very well, Carmelo,’ said Viola, timidly. ‘But that gentleman has all his own way, and he has three guards at his page: 41 beck and call, and with a few fines they ruin you: look at poor Nanni.’

Giovanni, the cobbler, who had sat at his stall in the open air, as his father had done before him all his life, had been smitten hip and thigh by Article 20 of the new regulations that had come in with the clerkship of Messer Nellemane which forbade anybody to sit outside on the pavement and encumber it. As old Giovanni was an obstinate and obtuse old man, and persisted in believing the stones before his door were his own, and persisted also in cumbering them very much with his board and his chair and his tools, the commune had summoned him over and over again, and finally added up his fines for contumacy and contravention to such a big total that Nanni, who made about a franc a day and lived on it, could no more pay the sum than he could have built St. Peter’s.

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So that the usher of the commune visited him and finally sold up his poor pots and pans and sticks of furniture, and the foolish old fellow was so hurt by this that he smoked himself to death with his last pinch of charcoal, and was found stiff and stark on his bare floor, for of bed and bedding they had left him naught.

Nanni had been a merry kindly old soul, and his death had been a shock to the people of his village, for he had made or mended the Sunday shoes of the place for half a century.

‘I do remember Nanni,’ said the young man, with a dark frown upon his face. ‘These new‐fangled laws killed him; and as for the “gentleman,” as you call him, if anyone thrashed him they would do a good work.’

‘Oh hush!’said Viola, looking affrighted page: 43 after the figure of Messer Gaspardo as it passed along the opposite bank.

‘Had I best carry them in or leave them?’ said Pippo in the same perplexity, looking wistfully up from his green bundles.

The miller’s son let fall his shingles back into the water, and with a stride or two through the clear stream reached the bundles, hoisted them on his shoulders and went away with them to Pippo’s house, a score of roods’ distance down the river. Messer Gaspardo, who had glanced back, saw the action; he noted it in his note‐book and walked onward.

The river was all golden and green in the late afternoon; here and there was the red flame of a knot of tulips; a lovely silence and radiance were over all the scene as the sun sunk to its setting. Messer Gaspardo went on down the bank of the page: 44 Rosa and looked very dark and very grim against the shining light of the evening skies.

Viola gazed after him and felt afraid, terribly afraid; she wished he had not seen Carmelo Pastorini take the osiers on his back. The young man indeed was indifferent; he was very young and bright and brave; he had drawn a lucky number and so been free with only forty days in the army, and able to stay at home with his father at the little watermill on the Rosa; he feared nothing. But Pippo and Viola feared everything, yet knew not what they feared: it is a ghostly burden of dread, that which the honest poor carry with them all through their toiling hungry days, the vague oppressive dread of this law which is always acting the spy on them, always dogging their steps, always emptying their pockets.

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The poor can understand criminal law and its justice and its necessity easily enough and respect its severities; but they cannot understand the petty tyrannies of civil law, and it wears their lives out, and breaks their spirits. When it does not break their spirits, it curdles their blood and they become socialists, nihilists, internationalists, anything that will promise them riddance of their spectre and give them vengeance.

We in Italy are all of us afraid of socialism, we who have anything to lose; and yet we let the syndics with their secretaries, conciliators, and chancellors sow it broadcast in dragon’s teeth of petty injustices, and petty cruelties, that soon or late will spring up armed men, hydra‐headed and torch in hand!

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